What is the Good News? A response to Jayne Ozanne's reinterpretation

Jayne Ozanne

It's Christmas time and all over the country people will read and hear, many for the umpteenth time, Luke's account of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-20). I have been meditating and reflecting each day for the past six weeks on the lead up to this and the words themselves.

The advantage of meditating and chewing on something slowly is that you get to digest it and appreciate it more. I have found this especially true with the words of the angel announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds – "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people" (Luke 2:10). The words are so familiar that we often do end up treating them with contempt. Nonetheless they are stunning.

But what is this Good News? The Church of England, as the Church of Scotland and much of the rapidly declining mainstream denominations in the West, seem greatly confused. I recall a group of Scottish politicians who had asked a group of 'representative' clergy to give advice and how confused they were. "You seem to believe in two different religions" was their accurate observation. Indeed the trumpet has been giving an uncertain sound for many years.

Jayne Ozanne, the former evangelical, who once believed the Good News, has now come to agree with this view that there are two different versions of Christianity which are incompatible with one another. She wrote of this in a revealing article earlier this month.

I want to reflect on this – not from a personal basis – but simply because Ozanne's teaching is a perfect example of the kind of anti-Christian teaching which is destroying the Church of England. She is right, but not for the reasons she expounds. As I wrote about an earlier debate she had with Peter Lynas on the question of conversion therapy, this is not just about two different versions of Christianity, but rather about two different Christianities.

Jayne's version of the Good News is that God loves us whatever we do, and there is no need for us to repent to enjoy that love. For her, God's love is unconditional, while the opposing view is bound in by various actions. As a soundbite it sounds neat and even good – but it completely disintegrates on closer examination into a vacuous empty mist.

She justifies her claim by somewhat bizarrely, declaring that the thief on the Cross did not repent of his sin, something she does not know and which goes against the clear implication of the text that he did, unlike his colleague. If Jayne were right, then it would mean that not only the thief who recognised Christ was saved, but also the one who cursed him.

Jayne, as a religious leader, says that Jesus condemned religious leaders. Indeed, he did. But what for? For going away from the Scriptures – the very thing she herself is urging us to do. God tells us that we must repent. Jesus tells us that those who do not repent will perish (Luke 13:3-5). Was Jesus wrong? Did he not understand what he was saying?! He goes even further when he tells the church in Thyatira that in his mercy he has granted them time to repent of the teaching of Jezebel who misleads his people into sexual immorality and idolatry – but if they don't, they will 'suffer intensely' (Revelation 2:18-25). This is hardly the "unconditional love which doesn't require repentance" that Jayne argues for.

But it gets worse. We are told that Jesus in John 3:15 says that whoever believes in him may have eternal life - "No caveats". The trouble is that belief in him (which includes repentance) is the caveat. Says who? Well, Jesus actually! He goes on to say, "whoever does not believe stands condemned already" (John 3:18).

Jayne says repentance is "not a salvation matter". The writer to the Hebrews says it is foundational (Hebrews 6:1). The Jesus Jayne has invented has nothing to do with the Jesus of the Bible who preached that repentance was of the essence of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:17), who stated that "repentance for the forgiveness of sins" was the gospel (Luke 24:47), and who said that he had come to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

Ozanne, and those who share her theology, state that the world needs abundant grace now more than ever. Indeed, it does. But it needs that grace – and love – to have some meaning and content. A world in which God just forgives everyone because 'that's his job', a world which does not require a new birth, the cross, the resurrection, repentance, baptism etc is not the real world.

Jayne's new church is not about Christ. It is about protecting sexual identities. It is a graceless world – one where those who disagree with Jayne's theology will find themselves faced with the threat of the law (see the earlier exchange with Peter Lynas). It is a hopeless world, one where there is no crucified Christ to hope in. And it is a fantasy tinsel world, where the Christmas tree replaces the tree on which Christ died. It is a world with fake fairies and fake 'good news'. Not the glorious news that the angels brought of a Saviour who had come into the world to save his people. It was to those who received him that he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12). Those who do not receive are excluded. They refuse to come into the light and so they get what they want – the darkness.

Jayne may not like that teaching of Christ but it is his teaching, and those who profess to follow him must accept his teaching. It is also the teaching of the Church of England in its 39 Articles. In permitting the blessing of gay couples in church, the Church of England has gone against its own doctrine – and more importantly gone against the doctrines of Jesus Christ. It's not that this is the key issue but it is the presenting issue. When the Church is asked whether it will go with the societal elites or follow the Word of Christ, it has deliberately and consciously chosen the way of Baal.

Jesus warns the Ephesian church that if they do not repent, he will remove their lampstand (Revelation 2:5) - in other words, destroy their church.

The Church of England is faced with the same choice. It can choose the way of Jezebel, or it can choose the way of Christ. It cannot do both.

But I do not want to leave it there. At Christmas we feast. And Christ invites us to feast with him. He doesn't force himself upon us. He knocks. He rebukes. He disciplines.He loves. He speaks. He calls for repentance. He asks to come in. He promises to come in.

"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me" (Revelation 3:20).

Merry Christmas - or Happy Christ's Time!

David Robertson is the minister of Scots Kirk Presbyterian Church in Newcastle, New South Wales. He blogs at The Wee Flea.